Analog music in restaurants: Brendan Sodikoff weighs in
In the latest installment of our Ask the Critics column, we tackle a topic on the mind of audiophile gastronauts everywhere: Why are so many restaurants—Au Cheval, Ada St. and the soon-to-open g.e.b. among them—using analog music systems these days?
Here's part of our answer:
Outdated music technology...sends multiple messages: a seriousness about “sound” (something about the music being “warmer,” whatever the hell that means), a rejection of populist technology (iPhones: so 2009) and a suggestion that their love of music is somehow so deep—so integral—that current-day technology cannot express it. Can you hear a difference? Not at all. Any musical subtleties these analog systems highlight are completely lost among the din of a restaurant.
Not surprisingly, a person involved with an analog-loving restaurant asked to chime in. That person is Brendan Sodikoff, who sent me this passionate but well-reasoned response:
We've spent 1000s of hours flipping through records, seeking out uncompressed digital recordings and mastering music for our spaces. We've made duplicate playlists from analog and digital sources and played them in the same space to a blind audience to see if there was a preference. Blind test groups were drawn to warm analog playback (including myself) so we made a commitment to use it, not knowing if there would be any noticeable response from the guests. I'm not sure if it's the analog sound, retro hip-hop or the volume level but we've gotten more compliments on the music at Au Cheval than any of our other spaces.
I don't know anyone who would choose a digital recording of a cello to standing in front of a musician who's making the instrument come to life. A big part of music is how you relate to it. Some guests see the reel to reel upon entering and feel nostalgic or laugh in surprise. If nothing else, that makes it worth the time and effort we put into it.
Audiophile gastronauts, this is your chance to chime in.